The first thing you notice about Dubai is the grand scale of the buildings, especially the skyscrapers and shopping malls, and the no-expense-spared attitude they clearly had when designs were drawn up. There are two high rise strips along Sheikh Zayed Road that need to be seen to be believed. It’s hard to understand why all of these monstrous high rise buildings are necessary for a city of only 2.1 million people, but they make an impressive sight if nothing else. The amazing thing is there’s so much construction going on that it looks like every week for the next few years another skyscraper will be gracing the city skyline! Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.
The second thing you notice is the traffic. It’s as though there was a nationwide competition to purchase the biggest 4WD possible, and everyone entered. OK, not everyone has a massive 4WD, some people have Ferraris, Maseratis, and Porsches, but whatever car they own they like to drive them fast. The speed limit within city limits fluctuates between 60-80km/h, but speed cameras don’t do their job until cars are 10-20km/h over the limit! On the highway the speed limit is120km/h, but again you’re given a 20km/h buffer, so feel free to crank it up to 140km/h without any danger of being fined.
If you happen to be going a slower than the other cars, as was often the case for us in our tiny Chevrolet Spark hire car, be prepared to have cars behind flash their high beams at you to move out of the way, and an accompanying horn as well. People around here want to drive fast, and they aren’t shy in letting you know if you’re dawdling, so you need to get out of their way. They also have no idea where the indictors are, so you’ll need to be able to read minds to know where your fellow road users plan on going. Strangely enough they know exactly where the hazards light are and UAE drivers aren’t shy in using them, which is a bit like the way they live their lives here really, why only have one light on when you can have them both on? I’m sure if they could flick on eight orange lights at the same time they’d do it!
As for the road system, I’m shaking my head just thinking about it. I’ve seen spaghetti intersections in movies where roads are looping all over themselves and heading off in a thousand different directions, and thought I’d love to drive through one of those. Well now I have, and I hope I never have to again. Someone with a very twisted sense of humour designed the spaghetti intersections here, because for a novice like myself, it’s truly impossible to know how to exit onto the road you need to be on. In fact, it’s just as impossible to know which road to enter them on! The amount of times we took the wrong turn was crazy, costing us so much wasted time, and the sadistic part is you can’t turn around for another crack at it for miles and miles. It can be incredibly frustrating, so if you’ve hired a car I strongly recommend you include an up to date GPS navigation system in the deal. However, and here’s where the sadistic Dubai town planners really have their way with you, they often change the names of the streets without telling anyone, so your GPS navigation system may not be able to help you anyway!!!
The third thing you notice is the heat. Actually, this is probably the first thing you’ll notice, especially if you visit in summer like we have, because once you step out of the airport terminal you will be smashed in the face by a wave of thick hot air. Winter is the best time to come here, because from May to October no one is walking the streets until the mercury dips to around 35 degrees after the sun goes down.
We hired a car from Budget to go on a six day tour around a few places in the UAE, namely Dubai, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. The beast we bagged ourselves for about $AU17 per day is a Chevrolet Spark. When you think of Chevrolet, you think of big petrol guzzlers ripping holes in the ozone layer like it’s a normal thing to do, so they should be ashamed of the tiny buzz box we’re driving around in. We are without doubt the tiniest car on the road, constantly swallowed up by huge 4WD’s flying past us down the motorways. But it’s doing a great job getting us from A to B, and costing us barely anything in petrol, which is a measly 50c per litre here!
Our first stop was Dubai, and the drive in to our hotel was amazing. The most impressive skyscrapers you’ll ever see line the main road, while a couple of streets over there were mind bogglingly remarkable man made wonders like the Jumeirah Palm Island.
Here’s a few of the main attractions we took in while in Dubai for a couple of days:
JUMEIRAH PALM ISLAND
This is where the world’s rich and famous have a holiday home, David Beckham and Robert De Niro just to name a couple. It’s a man made island in the shape of a palm leaf, with each frond a separate gated community with mansion after mansion lining each street. At the end of the palm stem is the world famous Atlantis On The Palm Hotel, with it’s massive arch separating each side of the hotel. Wow, wow, triple wow!
Set in amongst beautiful skyscrapers, the Dubai Marina is a magnificent sight. ‘The Walk’ as the name suggests, is a walkway around the perimeter where you can wander about, stop for a bite to eat at one of the restaurants, or pop into a real estate agent to find out what it costs to own a beautiful apartment here. While the setting was pretty spectacular, I was really disappointed with the quality of yacht bobbing up and down in the water! After all, it is Dubai and I was expecting a lot more.
BURJ AL ARAB
Set just off the beach on a man made island, the Burj Al Arab is known as the world’s only ‘7-star hotel’. This is not an official rating, and the company has never promoted themselves this way, but when it was opened a journalist claimed she’d never seen a hotel like it and coined the phrase, which as since stuck. It’s been the setting of a few movies such as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, where Tom Cruise climbs out of his hotel window and makes his way to the computer mainframe room ‘Spiderman-style’. A very famous promotional tennis match was played between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi on the helipad that is positioned off the edge of the roof. Other promotional events on the helipad have included Tiger Woods teeing off, and David Coulthard doing donuts in a F1 racing car. The images of these events have been doing the rounds on the internet for a couple of years now. The most expensive room, The Royal Suite, will set you back around $US19,000 per night. While it’s clearly a very beautiful building, it doesn’t even come close to being the most beautiful in Dubai.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MALLS
Dubai does shopping malls very, very well. They are so incredible we spent our entire first afternoon in Dubai visiting them! The Mall Of The Emirates has an amazing indoor ski resort, where you can spend the whole day enjoying a range of snow activities including five separate downhill runs, the longest of which is 400m with a drop of 60m, complete with a chairlifts to take you back to the top. a ski slope full day pass will set you back abut 300AED ($AU85) for adults, and 275AED ($AU79) for kids which includes all clothing and equipment hire!
The Dubai Mall is monstrous, and while we were wandering through Kimora Lee Simmons happened to be hosting some sort of fashion event there, for those of you who are fans. This place also has the Dubai Aquarium, where you can go swimming with all sorts of marine life, including sharks and stingrays, right in front of anyone who happens to be shopping there at the time. You can pay to enter and you’ll have a great time, or just wander past and check out the biggest fish tank you’ve ever seen with the most amazing sea creatures on the planet. Jack stood in amazement until we had to drag him away, and there’s always plenty of people there checking it out.
Standing at 830m tall, the Burj Khalif is the tallest tower in the world. It seems to go for miles into the sky, and is pretty much visible no matter where you are in Dubai. Standing right next to the Dubai Mall, not only is it imposing in stature, it also happens to be a very beautiful building in its own right. If you fancy it, you can take an elevator to the top and get the best view of Dubai imaginable, but it will set you back 125AED ($AU35) per person for the privilege. We’re travelling on a budget, so this is slightly out of our price bracket, but if you’re here on a holiday we’d highly recommend it.
AL FAHIDI FORT
Also known as the Dubai Museum, the Al Fahidi Fort is very underwhelming indeed. Apparently the museum is pretty good inside, but Sarah and I aren’t museum people so didn’t bother going in. Given the forts we’d just seen in India, which were stunning, and the city we’re in, the fort itself is a shocker. Our advice, only bother going if you really want to go to the museum.
Located in the huge Creek Park, Children’s City is a great place to take the kids for a few hours or a whole day. There’s plenty to see and do, and you can do just a bit or try and fit in the whole lot. We paid our 5AED each to enter the park and headed straight for the Your Planet Needs You exhibition. It cost Sarah and I 15AED ($AU4.50) each to get in, but because Jack is only two he was allowed in free. There was a great toddler’s play area where he could run around on padded surfaces, climb ladders, go down slides, and play on various rides. It was great fun for him, and for older kids there was a lot, lot more. There were heaps of interactive science activities over three levels, and on the top level was a cinema where you sit back and watch as the domed roof becomes outer space and you learn all about what’s really going on out there! Outside there’s a train ride, camel and donkey rides, a dolphin show, play ground and heaps of other stuff too numerous to list here.
SHOPPING AT THE SOUKS
Near the mouth of the creek on either side are the various souks where you can go and pick up a bargain. Souk means Arabian marketplace or bazaar, and you can try and barter your way to a bargain at the Dubai Old Souk, Cloth Souk, Gold Souk and Spice Souk. We wandered through one or two and it felt like we were back in India, with every shopkeeper trying every trick in the book to get you into their stores. We didn’t stay too long here, like I said we’d had enough of this in India only a couple of weeks before, but it’s an experience and the quality is pretty good.
We only spent a couple of days in Dubai, but depending on how much money you’ve got to spend you could stay for a week at least and fill your days easily with plenty of activities. You can go snow skiing in a mall, skydiving, boating, if you can think of it, you can probably do it.
We were actually considering living here for 12 months to get work and save money, but it lacks a little soul, and having to stay indoors for half the year because it’s too hot to go outside doesn’t sound like fun. But if you’re here for a good time, and have a few dollars to play with, you might just have the time of your life!
Click on the images below to see a photo gallery of our stay in Dubai…